7 user experience (UX) principles based on psychological phenomena

Posted on November 1, 2023
4 min read

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In some ways, UX professionals are like psychologists. They need to understand people’s motivations and challenges so that they can design the products people need to accomplish their goals. To understand those challenges, it helps to know a few common psychological phenomena that occur in the human brain. We’ve pulled together seven of them for you to keep in mind when designing a digital experience.

The path of least resistance

Also known as the “law of least action,” this phenomenon is a basic behavioral hypothesis stating that a user will naturally choose a course of action they believe will require the least effort or energy expenditure. 

The principle of least effort means a user is less likely to use any app or product that they perceive has a difficult interface. Users choose the easiest way to complete an action or job. UX designers creating the flow for completing a job or action should strive to keep things simple, providing users with the easiest path to achieve the desired action. 

Habit

This principle states that people are more likely to continue doing something the way they’ve grown used to doing it. People generally want to rely on the familiar routines and habits they’ve developed to complete a task, function, or objective. 

As a user experience principle, we can think of the principle of perpetual habit as a way to help users form a habit around using a product. If a user forms a habit of using a product in a certain way, they’re more likely to continue using it. 

A good example of this principle is Gmail. People who use Gmail are used to the software’s simplistic, straightforward, intuitive design and user experience.  

If the UX team at Google were to change the look or location of commonly used functionalities within the software, such as Compose or Inbox, it would not be a good day for millions of users. These users might become so frustrated that they switch to a new email provider. Due to the principle of perpetual habit, a clean, simplistic UX design that doesn’t change drastically from one software iteration to the next is usually the best option. Once users have formed habits using a product, an intuitive, consistent UX design helps keep them using it. 

This well-known phenomena also means that UX designers typically avoid reinventing the wheel unless absolutely necessary when it comes to creating digital experiences. If you’re releasing a new app or experience to the public, the longer it takes for them to learn complicated gestures or interactions, the harder it will be for them to adopt. If an intuitive solution has already been established in a well-known product, leaning on people’s existing familiarity can be helpful. Although this shouldn’t prevent designers from trying new things, it’s important not to overcomplicate things.

Emotional contagion

The phenomenon of emotional contagion describes the transfer of emotions from one individual to another individual, meaning that people tend to sympathize with the emotions and behaviors of others and often copy the emotion. 

The principle isn’t exclusive to the transfer of emotions between people and works with animals and on-page animations, too. UX designers can transfer desired emotions to users through the layout, illustrations, animations, and pictures they choose to incorporate into the UX design. 

Keeping specific emotions top-of-mind when designing a new experience can drive design decisions that will have a real emotional impact on users. “How do we want users to feel?” is always a helpful question to ask in any design sprint. 

Socialization

We’re social creatures. As a principle of user experience design, socialization refers to the importance of incorporating features that help people feel connected to others using your product. One of the most common ways UX designers incorporate social features into designs today is by adding buttons for users to share content to their social media profiles. 

In addition to fostering brand community amongst users, the socialization principle helps users trust an organization and its products. Client testimonials and product reviews are another way UX designers implement the principle of socialization. After seeing that others are happy with your products or services, people are more likely to make the same decision and take the action that your organization wants them to take. 

Identity 

This principle describes an organization's need to use consistent design elements across products and branding to help users connect or identify with a product. Consistent use of visual elements like color, imagery, and typography along with other elements of UX design, such as the tone and voice used, create distinctive, memorable experiences for users that reflect the brand. 

We also see the principle of identity at work with people tending to choose or associate with one product over another. Examples include: Apple vs. Samsung or Nike vs. Adidas. This behavior is rooted in users’ tendency to adopt brands as part of their identity. We want to feel like we belong. So, people seek brands and experiences they feel align with who they are. 

Mistakes and forgiveness

When creating intuitive user experience designs, UX designers must keep in mind that users will frequently make mistakes when using a product and will need a quick, easy way to undo that error. The more forgiving a product is to user mistakes, the more user-friendly the product becomes. 

For example, when using a Windows computer, the shortcut function “ctrl+z” will quickly undo an action in many programs. When sending an email in Gmail, for a few seconds after hitting send, users have an option in the bottom left of the screen to "unsend." Amazon makes online returns as simple and painless as possible. The easier it is for users to cancel an action or reverse the action, the more user-friendly the user experience will be and the safer they’ll feel. 

Beauty 

No surprise here: Your products need to look good while they do their job. Also known as the “Principle of Aesthetic-Usability Effect,” this concept simply states that humans are more likely to find attractive products more usable. Whether we’re shopping for a new book, comparing websites or buying a car, appearances matter. For better or worse, the aesthetics of UX design are often a deciding factor when users choose between two products. So, make sure yours is as aesthetically pleasing as it is usable.

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